Tag Archives: Writing

Writing as a profession.

INDIA

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.com

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness: A Novel

Written by: Arundhati Roy

Narrated by: Arundhati Roy

ARUNDHATI ROY (INDIAN AUTHOR, WINNER OF THE BOOKER PRIZE FOR – THE GOD OF SMALL THINGS)

Arundhati Roy characterizes India’s governance in her new novel, “The Ministry of Utmost Happiness”.  She pictures India as culturally diverse; however, it is defined by separateness and injustice more than freedom and equality-of-opportunity.

India’s population; not its territorial size, makes it the largest democratic republic in the world.  Roy exposes India’s democracy and its flaws.  The flaws she identifies are reminders of America’s democratic failings.

Without having traveled to India (a trip is planned in February 2018), much of the author’s writing resonates with what is happening in America.  Roy observes Indian society as she lives it.  This is only her second novel in the last twenty years.  With a host of fascinating characters, Roy offers an insightful vision of modern India.  Her writing beautifully describes Indian society while beating democracy with an ugly-stick.

Roy’s writing beautifully describes Indian society while beating democracy with an ugly-stick.

One can personally believe in the value of democracy in the world and still appreciate what Roy says about failures of democracy in India.  A joke that Roy tells capsulizes a major flaw in democracy.  Because of difference among followers of the Muslim religion, Roy illustrates the absurdity of volitional separateness.  A comparable joke in American history might be as follows:

Picture a Union soldier at the beginning of the Civil War with the intention of jumping off Fort Sumter’s wall to his death.  A Rebel soldier sticks his head out to talk the Union soldier off the ledge.

BATTLE OF FORT SUMTER (Picture a Union soldier at the beginning of the Civil War with the intention of jumping off Fort Sumter to his death.  A Rebel soldier sticks his head out to presumably talk the Union soldier off the ledge.)

Rebel soldier: “Where are you from?”

Union soldier: “South Carolina.”

Rebel soldier: “Me too.”

Union soldier: “I’m a God-fearing Baptist.”

Rebel soldier: “Me too.”

Union soldier: “I believe in State’s Rights.”

Rebel soldier: “Me too.”

Union soldier: “I’m a white American and believe in the superiority of the white race.”

Rebel soldier: “Me too.”

Union soldier: “I believe Negroes are unequal to whites.”

Rebel soldier: “Me too.”

Union soldier: “I believe a woman’s place is in the home.”

Rebel soldier: “Me too.”

Union soldier: “I believe in majority rule for States’ Rights.”

Rebel soldier: “Me too.”

Union soldier: “I believe in a federalist government that makes States stronger and guarantees life, and liberty for all.”

The Rebel soldier leans over and pushes the Union soldier off the ledge.

SAYYID QUTB (1906-1966, EGYPTIAN AUTHOR,EDUCATOR,ISLAMIC THEORIST,POET,AND LEADING MEMBER OF THE MUSLIM BROTHERHOOD)

In contrast, Roy’s story is about two Indian Muslims that are the same on most levels.  However, as each layer of similarity is revealed, a singular difference compels hostility, imprisonment, injury, or murder.  That theme carries through in every character in “The Ministry of Utmost Happiness”.  The irony of Roy’s title resonates in each chapter of the book.

In the beginning of Roy’s story, a family has their first boy child.  The child is born with both male and female parts.  The mother conceals the child’s circumstance from the father until the boy begins to exhibit a desire to be a girl.  The girl is rejected by her father.  She seeks refuge in a house where other hermaphrodites live.  She grows to adulthood but becomes isolated from Indian society.  She is an extraordinary woman who establishes an outcasts’ haven in a cemetery that attracts equally shunned Indians.  (One is reminded of the many minorities in America who are driven to similar non-judgmental enclaves.)

TRANSGENDER TWITTER BY TRUMP ; e.g. AMERICA’S REJECTION OF DIVERSITY.

Roy’s novel reflects on relations between India, Pakistan, and China in Kashmir.  She notes Muslim influence throughout India that sharply differentiates the majority Hindu population in India from the Muslim majority in Kashmir.  The complexity of Kashmiri society pits Muslim against Muslim, Hindu against Muslim, Asian against Muslim, Pakistani and Chinese against Indian.  The irony is that this is democracy.

KASHMIR AREAS OF DISPUTE

The ideal of democracy is to meld different cultures into one multi-cultural and accepting society with a belief in a common good.  However, human nature gets in the way.  The drive for money, power, and prestige is unleashed by democracy in ways that separate cultures from humanity.  The rich become richer at the expense of the poor.  Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely.  Hubris qualifies one child for Harvard; another for military service, community college, or poverty row.

AFTERLIFE (Death is a belief of a beloved that no one is missed because they are always with you. )

Roy’s novel is about life and death.  No one ever dies in her story; i.e. they just move on.  Death is belief of a beloved that no one is missed because they are always with you.

Roy’s story is not written as a political manifesto.  It is about human nature; not about governments or their politics.  Roy’s book seems a plea for people to recognize diversity in humanity; i.e. to accept rather than reject, and not to isolate, injure, and/or murder the “other”.

Roy is an idealist who sees the world as it is.  The reality is we live in a world as it is; not as it ought to be.

Roy infers the world should let Pakistanis, Afghans, Kashmiris, Iraqis, Syrians, Indians; and other nation-builders choose their own way of life.  Only in the context of human nature, does one size fit all.  To date, no government seems capable of achieving acceptance of diversity, but some are better than others.

This review fails to show how beautifully this story is written.  One can enjoy Roy’s book  just for the images she creates with words.

(Visited 11 time, 1 visit today)

NECESSARY TRUTH

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.com

Invisible Man, Got the Whole World Watching: A young Black Man’s Education

Written by: Mychal Denzel Smith

Narrated by: Kevin R. Free

MYCHAL DENZEL SMITH (AUTHOR)

Mychal Smith’s book is difficult to listen to for a white liberal; i.e. the difficulty is more because of what Smith sees than what he does not see.  The necessary truth of what Smith sees is that being black, female, homosexual, or any color but white disadvantages citizens who live, work, and love in America.  Smith correctly notes that Barrack Obama did not change that truth.  But, for a liberal, Smith’s criticism of Obama is heart-rending.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA
MARTIN LUTHER KING (1929-1968)

Smith’s expectation is superhuman.  No singularly elected and/or acclaimed person will unwind history’s discrimination.  Obama and King are extraordinary human beings by any standard of measurement.  That Obama is black and became the first black president of the United States proves being human is the best one can be.  Martin Luther King’s “arc of justice” still bends toward freedom and equal opportunity for all; despite the world’s, let alone King’s, and Obama’s failings.

The nature of humankind is an evolutionary work in progress.  Sadly, evolution is a chancy proposition that moves human nature both backward and forward.  Maybe, humanity will never get to a state of freedom and equal opportunity, but Obama’s “audacity of hope” is better than anger, and fear.  Smith cites Malcolm X as his ideal of black resistance but fails to note that Mr. Little evolved to believe separate but equal is a fiction.  Malcolm X broke from the Nation of Islam because of its belief in Black separatism and superiority.  Malcolm X’s life experience and intelligence led him to believe all people are human beings.  In being human, there is good and bad in every race, color, and creed.

MALCOLM X (1925-1965)
TRAVON MARTIN (1995-2012)

None of this denies Smith’s recognition of the questionable murder of Trayvon Martin, or the Jena Six debacle in Jena, Louisiana where a white high school student is beaten by five black teenagers.  Both incidents are riven with racial hatred, lack of justice, and human failing.  Smith gravitates to violent lyrics to say the anger of rap artists appeals to his inner frustration.

————-DONALD TRUMP AND KANYE WEST————

Smith recounts the considered statements of Kanye West when President Bush fails to conscientiously respond to the Katrina disaster in New Orleans.  (West suggested Bush did not care about black people.)  Ironically, Kanye West appears to support President-Elect Donald Trump who was sued for discrimination under the fair housing laws of the United States.

There are many incidents that Smith recognizes as the failure of white America to treat minorities fairly.  At the same time, Smith is introspective in acknowledging some of his own human failings.  He writes of his fears, his desire to be a great writer, and his earlier-life failure to understand how important women’s rights are in the black community.  He writes of his father’s concern over his sexuality and how gender discrimination has some of the same hatred, lack of justice, and human failing as black discrimination.

Listening to Mychal Denzel Smith is difficult because his observations explain why he, if not most, black Americans are disgusted with white America.  It makes a white person feel guilty because white Americans are the majority; and as a majority, white (particularly male) America has the bulk of the country’s money, power, and prestige.  Until all people are humans first, there seems little reason to believe there is much hope for the “arc of justice” to bend toward freedom and equal opportunity for all.

FRIEDRICH WILHELM NIETZSCHE (1844-1900, DIED AT AGE 55)

Hope is not enough for black American’s suffering today.  That is Mychal Smith’s message–too many blacks are being murdered; too many blacks are denied equal opportunity; too many blacks are jailed, and too many black families are broken.  What Smith fails to fairly acknowledge is who is at fault.  All of us share the blame.  Human beings must recognize the humanity of all human beings.  If evolution is not the answer, then human will (in a Nietzschean sense) must come to America’s aid.

(Visited 12 time, 1 visit today)

ERNEST HEMINGWAY

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.com

A Moveable FeastA Moveable Feast

Written by: Ernest Hemingway

Narration by:  James Naughton

ERNEST HEMINGWAY (1899-1961, PICTURED IN HIS PRIME AFTER WRITING THE SUN ALSO RISES & A FAREWELL TO ARMS, RECEIVED NOBEL PRIZE IN 1954)
ERNEST HEMINGWAY (1899-1961, PICTURED IN HIS PRIME AFTER WRITING THE SUN ALSO RISES & A FAREWELL TO ARMS, RECEIVED NOBEL PRIZE IN 1954)

“A Moveable Feast” is a remembrance of things past by Ernest Hemingway.  It reveals an author who achieves greatness, wealth, and fame in the early twentieth century.  “A Moveable Feast” is a reminiscence of Hemingway’s youth when first love blooms and life is a feast.  Hemingway recalls when he felt immortal.  He lives life with abandon.  He lives poor while struggling as a writer in the Paris of the 1920s.  In his early twenties, with a beautiful wife and young son, Hemingway is a newspaper and short story writer struggling to become a novelist.

BUMBY (AKA JACK OR JOHN HEMINGWAY 1923-2000, HADLEY AND ERNEST HEMINGWAY'S ONLY CHILD CALLED MR. BUMBY)
BUMBY (AKA JACK OR JOHN HEMINGWAY 1923-2000, HADLEY AND ERNEST HEMINGWAY’S ONLY CHILD CALLED MR. BUMBY)
ERNEST AND HADLEY HEMINGWAY (ELIZABETH HADLEY JEFFERSON, 1891-1979 MARRIED ERNEST IN 1921 AND MOVED TO PARIS, DIVORCED IN 1927)
ERNEST AND HADLEY HEMINGWAY (1891-1979, ELIZABETH HADLEY JEFFERSON,  MARRIED ERNEST IN 1921 AND MOVED TO PARIS, DIVORCED IN 1927, LATER KNOWN AS RICHARDSON)

Remembering the past, Hemingway sees his future through the eyes of artists like Picasso and Miró and literary modernists like Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, James Joyce, and F. Scott Fitzgerald.  He relishes the art of Picasso and learns from Stein and Pound about the qualities of fine art and literature.  He is acquainted with James Joyce, T. S. Eliot, and F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Hemingway listens and learns and then chooses his own way.  To pare his writing, he emulates newspaper qualities of economy and precise wording.  He ignores the advice of Stein by refining ugly American words, including the colloquial swearing of the great unwashed.

JAMES JOYCE (1882-1941)
JAMES JOYCE (1882-1941)
T. S. ELIOT (POET, ESSAYIST, WROTE THE WASTELAND AND THE LOVE SONG OF J. ALFRED PRUFROCK, INFLUENCE BY EZRA POUND)
T. S. ELIOT (POET, ESSAYIST, WROTE THE WASTELAND AND THE LOVE SONG OF J. ALFRED PRUFROCK, INFLUENCE BY EZRA POUND)

Joyce is struggling to have Ulysses published.  Eliot is recognized as a great poet by Pound.  Pound solicits donations from Hemingway and others to allow Eliot to abandon a humdrum job to exclusively write poetry.  Lucky for Eliot, he is discovered by a wealthy patron that abates his need to work while writing.  The penurious Hemingway uses the collected money (meant for Eliot) to help himself.

F. SCOTT FITZGERALD (1896-1940, AUTHOR OF THE GREAT GATSBY, TENDER IS THE NIGHT AND OTHER JAZZ AGE NOVELS)
F. SCOTT FITZGERALD (1896-1940, AUTHOR OF THE GREAT GATSBY, TENDER IS THE NIGHT AND OTHER JAZZ AGE NOVELS)

Hemingway meets F. Scott Fitzgerald in Paris.  He is invited on a road trip to recover Fitzgerald’s car.  The car is being fixed outside of Paris.  Fitzgerald misses the train they were to take to the town where the car is being fixed.  Hemingway furiously looks for Fitzgerald but is unable to find him and presumes they will meet at their destination.  Finally, Fitzgerald arrives and they begin their return to Paris by car.  The car’s top has been damaged and removed; so there is no protection from the rain.  To Hemingway, the trip is a disaster but it offers potential for a friendship with an already famous and financially successful author.

ZELDA SAYRE FITZGERALD (1900-1948, NOVELIST, POET, DANCER, PAINTER, SOCIALITE--A FLAPPER IN THE JAZZ AGE, CONSIDERED BY NANCY MITFORD TO BE A FEMINIST AHEAD OF HER TIME)
ZELDA SAYRE FITZGERALD (1900-1948, NOVELIST, POET, DANCER, PAINTER, SOCIALITE–A FLAPPER IN THE JAZZ AGE, CONSIDERED BY NANCY MITFORD TO BE A FEMINIST AHEAD OF HER TIME)

Fitzgerald is noted by Hemingway to be an amazing story-teller. He tells Hemingway about “The Great Gatsby” and how he plans to give Hemingway an early copy. On the trip back to Paris, Hemingway notes that Fitzgerald lives life with vulnerabilities that will hasten his death.  Fitzgerald is mesmerized by Zelda, his wife.  Hemingway greatly admires Fitzgerald’s ability but is less enamored of Zelda.  Hemingway implies she is a “ball buster” who emasculates her husband by telling him he fails as a great lover because he has an inadequate penis.  Hemingway tells the reader Fitzgerald asks him to assess his masculine parts. Hemingway complies but is unable to convince Fitzgerald his parts are fine.  (One is reminded of some critic’s characterization of Hemingway’s misogyny and hyper-masculinity.)

Hemingway receives an early copy of “The Great Gatsby” and is astounded by Fitzgerald’s talent.  The disastrous road trip is forgiven and Hemingway makes an effort to become Fitzgerald’s friend.  He is largely successful until Fitzgerald asks Hemingway to be completely honest with him about Zelda’s masculinity comment.  Hemingway induces Fitzgerald to accompany him to a museum to look at naked Greek statues to prove there is no difference between Fitzgerald’s and other men’s anatomies.  After this excursion, Hemingway notes they become estranged, never to fully recover their friendship.  Some years later, Zelda is placed in a psychiatric hospital and F. Scott Fitzgerald dies.  Zelda is killed in a hospital fire several years after F. Scott Fitzgerald’s untimely death.

EZRA POUND (1885-1972, POET, MAJOR FIGURE IN THE EARLY MODERNIST MOVEMENT, SUPPORTER OF ELIOT, YEATS, AND WHITMAN'S POETRY)
EZRA POUND (1885-1972, POET, MAJOR FIGURE IN THE EARLY MODERNIST MOVEMENT, SUPPORTER OF ELIOT, YEATS, AND WHITMAN’S POETRY)

As this memoir of Hemingway’s life progresses, Pound is acknowledged as a good-hearted friend and patron of the arts.  No mention is made of Pound’s anti-Semitism.  Stein is characterized as formidable intellectually but thin-skinned and highly opinionated.  Joyce and Eliot are mentioned in passing but one can hear in Hemingway’s words his underlying respect.

“A Moveable Feast” is published posthumously and one suspects Hemingway would have re-written it before being satisfied with its form.  Never-the-less, Hemingway’s writing skill shines through.  There seem few wasted words.

Hemingway’s poignant reminder of the mistake he makes in changing wives when his fame begins to grow seems slightly off-center.  Hemingway seems to feel Hadley Richardson, his first wife, is the great love of his life because she shares his struggle to become a great writer.  This is where one wonders what a re-write might have clarified.  Remembrance of things past are never as good, or as bad as they seem.

ERNEST HEMINGWAY FAMILY TREE
ERNEST HEMINGWAY FAMILY TREE

Hemingway admirers will never know if “A Moveable Feast” would have been rewritten.  On July 2, 1961, Hemingway retrieves his favorite double-barreled shot-gun, points it at his head, and pastes the room with blood and brain.  As Bette Davis said, “Old age aint’t no place for sisies!”

(Visited 41 time, 1 visit today)

ELIZABETH BISHOP

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough
(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.com

On Elizabeth BishopON ELIZABETH BISHOP

Written by: Colm Tóibín

Narration by: John Keating

Colm Tóibín (IRISH NOVELIST, CRITIC, AND POET)
Colm Tóibín (IRISH NOVELIST, CRITIC, AND POET)

Colm Tóibín’s “On Elizabeth Bishop” is a brief outline of the life of a poet. It is a poet’s eye view of another’s life and work. For those not enamored with poetry, Colm Tóibín manages to encourage listeners to hear Bishop’s poetry.

ELIZABETH BISHOP (1934 AS A SENIOR AT VASSAR)
ELIZABETH BISHOP (1934 AS A SENIOR AT VASSAR)

Elizabeth Bishop begins life in hardship with the loss of her father when a baby and, as still a child, her mother to an asylum. Shunted from relative to relative with some stability from a grandmother and grandfather, Bishop completes high school and is accepted at Vassar College in 1929, just before the stock market crash. Listening to Tóibín’s analysis of Bishop’s poems, one understands why Bishop’s poetry is classified as cold, somewhat clinical, and only lightly emotional.

Tóibín’s analysis and Keating’s warm narration compel a listener who may have never heard a Bishop’ poem to hear one read. Several poems can be found on YouTube; one of which is “One Art”. Because of accompanying images in this production of the poem, the perfection, meaning, and depth of Bishop’s words are clear; even to the tone deaf.

Tóibín’s writing will encourage those who have never heard of Elizabeth Bishop to hear her poetry and learn more about her life. Though there is little one sees of the inner life of Bishop in her poetry, after listening to Tóibín’s book, the importance of the image of a farm-house in a reading of “Sestina” reminds one of a lonely young daughter being raised by grandparents in rural Massachusetts.

LOTA de MACEDO SOARES (1910-1967, BRAZILIAN ARCHITECT, ELIZABETH BISHOP PARTNER FOR 10 YEARS OF BISHOP'S LIFE IN BRAZIL)
LOTA de MACEDO SOARES (1910-1967, BRAZILIAN ARCHITECT, ELIZABETH BISHOP PARTNER FOR 10 YEARS OF BISHOP’S LIFE IN BRAZIL)
MARIANNE MOORE (1887-1972, WINNER OF PULITZER PRIZE FOR POETRY)
MARIANNE MOORE (1887-1972, WINNER OF PULITZER PRIZE FOR POETRY, MENTOR TO ELIZABETH BISHOP)

Bishop led an unconventional life. She traveled the world; lived in Brazil for ten years with her lover; corresponded with other poets, and learned more about poetry from a formal education, mentor-ship and collaboration with fellow poets. Though strongly influenced by others, she chooses her own path. Bishop abjures personal emotion but intellectually reveals what life means to her, and often what it means to others.

ROBERT LOWELL (1917-1977, POET)
ROBERT LOWELL (1917-1977, POET, FRIEND AND CORRESPONDENT OF ELIZABETH BISHOP)

This is a brief biography of Elizabeth Bishop, but Tóibín’s analysis of her poems offers a window through which one sees the value of poetry.

“At the Fishhouses” YouTube Reading with Pictures of Elizabeth Bishop, the Poem’s Creator:

(Visited 37 time, 1 visit today)

INDIA AND WWII

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.com

Farthest Field: An Indian Story of the Second World WarFarthest Field

 Written by: Raghu Karnad

Narration by:  Kahlil Joseph

RAGHU KARNAD (AUTHOR)
RAGHU KARNAD (AUTHOR)

India’s contribution during WWII is poorly served by this audio book version of “Farthest Field”.  Raghu Karnad notes many important Indian issues when writing about the lives of three Indian volunteers, but their bravery, tenacity, and valor are diminished by Kahlil Joseph’s unemotional, monotonous, and seemingly unrehearsed narration.  As a writer, Karnad fails to endear his characters to reader/listeners by painting too large a picture for what could have been a more character driven history.  Karnad offers a fine conclusion to his book but the names of many of his characters are not memorable enough to elicit emotion or recollection by the listener.

By 1945, India provided the largest all-volunteer army of any country during WWII.  That is an incredible achievement in view of India’s colonial history with Great Britain.  Karnad implies that one of the reasons for such a high number is because many Indian citizens were starving to death before the war.  The army, largely led by British military officers, offered food.     Karnad notes that 36,000 volunteers from India die during the war.    Whatever reasons India citizens had for joining the Allied effort; Karnad illustrates how valorous these volunteers were.  (Though not mentioned by Karnad, Indian soldiers earned over 30 Victoria Crosses during the War.  The Victoria Cross is awarded for courage in the face of the enemy. It is the highest military decoration of the British Empire.)

INDIAN ARMY AT SINGAPORE, NOVEMBER 1941
INDIAN ARMY AT SINGAPORE, NOVEMBER 1941
SIR CLAUDE AUCHINLECK JULY 1941 (FIELD MARSHALL REPLACED FROM N. AFRICAN COMMAND AFTER DEFEAT AT TOBRUK BY ROMMEL)
SIR CLAUDE AUCHINLECK JULY 1941 (FIELD MARSHALL REPLACED FROM N. AFRICAN COMMAND AFTER DEFEAT AT TOBRUK BY ROMMEL)

Karnad explains that India fought in the Asian theatre, northern Europe, and east Africa.  Their principal action was against the Japanese in South East Asia but they also fought the Italian and German armies in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia.  Karnad notes that the Commander-in-Chief of the Indian Army, Field Marshal Claude Auchinleck, became a revered leader of the volunteer army.  Auchinleck had been relieved of command in Africa and was assigned to India in 1942.

MAHATMA GANDHI (1869-1948)
MAHATMA GANDHI (1869-1948)

Karnad helps one understand the context of the war by noting the antipathy felt by many Indian citizens toward British colonization.  Gandhi is famously against the war and is jailed, along with a number of India’s leaders, during the war.  This antipathy eventually leads to Indian independence after the war and a split of Indian culture into Hindu and Muslim factions.  That religious split eventually leads to the independent states of Pakistan and East Pakistan (now Bangladesh).

Karnad’s last chapter draws the title, “Farthest Field”, together by explaining how India fought far from home for a country (Great Britain) they resented.  But, India acquitted its resentment by bravely fighting and defeating the Japanese in Burma.  Karnad notes that history is written by the victors but India is largely left behind in WWII’s storied past.  After trudging through “Farthest Field”, a listener wishes a more coherent, emotive, and better–narrated story had been told.  Karnad barely cracks the door to India’s WWII history.

(Visited 20 time, 1 visit today)

LIFE’S EXPECTATION

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.com

The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace: A Brilliant Young Man Who Left Newark for the Ivy LeagueThe Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace

Written by: Jeff Hobbs

Narration by:  George Newbern

JEFF HOBBS (AUTHOR)
JEFF HOBBS (AUTHOR)

A fickle ingredient in life is expectation.  Jeff Hobbs’ story of Robert Peace shows that innate ability opens and closes doors for all human beings.  Loyalties, interests, and affections ebb and flow in every life but expectation magnifies highs and lows when one is gifted with extraordinary ability.

ROBERT PEACE (GRADUATE OF YALE UNIVERSITY, KILLED IN DRUG DISPUTE IN HOME TOWN OF NEWARK NEW JERSEY)
ROBERT PEACE (GRADUATE OF YALE UNIVERSITY, KILLED IN DRUG DISPUTE IN HOME TOWN OF NEWARK NEW JERSEY)

Robert Peace is born in New Jersey and mostly raised by a mother and his grandparents in a rundown neighborhood in the Oranges, a suburban area west of Newark.  During Peace’s grade school years, Peace’s father is serving life in prison for conviction in the murder of two women.  Before being arrested Skeet, Peace’s father, sold drugs.

From Hobbs’ story, one understands Skeet is a smart guy; affably sociable and well-known in his community.  Before conviction as a murderer, Skeet proudly introduces his son to the community.  It becomes part of Robert Peace’s early education.

(ROBERT PEACE AND HIS MOTHER, JACKIE)
(ROBERT PEACE AND HIS MOTHER, JACKIE)

Peace’s mother never marries or moves-in with Skeet because of the life he leads but allows Rob’s excursions with his father because she knows Skeet loves his son and would protect him from any physical harm.  Rob’s mother works two, sometimes three jobs to make ends meet.  Rob is either with his grandparents or father when his mother works.  The author’s story shows Rob inherits the genetics of both father and mother.  Rob is smart and driven.

Rob’s mother, Jackie, insists on Rob being educated in private schools because of Newark’s poor public school system.  With intelligence, drive, and the help of a benefactor’s money, Rob attends and graduates from Yale University.  During Rob’s college education, he supplements his income by selling marijuana.  Rob’s education as a research biochemist becomes an avenue for both legal and illegal gain.  Hobbs suggests Rob’s income from drug sales, during his four years at Yale, is $100,000.

As most graduates with a four-year college degree, Rob is unsure of what he wants to do.  He accepts a research internship at Yale but continues to sell marijuana.  Rob returns to Newark in the summer and becomes more deeply connected to a dangerous environment of gangs and drugs.  A Yale degree is a badge of accomplishment among many of Rob’s friends but also a badge of disdain to neighborhood thugs and wannabes.  Rob begins to hide his education to fit into the seedier side of Newark life.

Rob maintains a close relationship with his family, including his incarcerated father.  Whether his father is guilty or innocent of murder is unknown but Rob steadfastly pursues his father’s release.  Rob reviews the trial record and hires lawyers to contest Skeet’s guilt.  However, Skeet dies in prison from cancer.

Rob decides to get a real estate license and start his own business.  He buys a house in Newark as his first investment.  The house is renovated and begins to pay for itself but Rob realizes Newark is not a good investment location.  Rob goes to work for Continental Airlines as a baggage handler; not because of a change in career, but as a way to explore the real estate market in other cities and countries.  Rob seems to have a plan.  He temporarily quits the marijuana sales business and appears to be moving on.  However, Newark remains Rob’s home.

ROBERT PEACE'S BASEMENT APARTMENT (PLACE WHERE PEACE IS MURDERED AT THE AGE OF 30-BELIEVED TO BE A DRUG RELATED SHOOTING)
ROBERT PEACE’S BASEMENT APARTMENT (PLACE WHERE PEACE IS MURDERED AT THE AGE OF 30-BELIEVED TO BE A DRUG RELATED SHOOTING)

Rob is fired from Continental for a mistake he makes in loading a plane before takeoff and then refusing to take a drug test when the mistake is discovered.  To compound Rob’s difficulties, the 2007-2008 mortgage financing debacle cripples his ability to buy real estate.  Rob chooses to use his biochemistry education to cultivate a unique strain of marijuana and return, in a big way, to the drug business.  In the spring of 2011, Rob is murdered in a basement apartment by unknown assailants.

On the one hand, the author of “The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace” returns life to Rob as a Shakespearean American tragedy.  On the other hand, it is a white man’s exploitation of a black man’s incomprehensible life.

A quote near the end of Hobbs book is “He was so f…ing smart, and he was so f…ing stupid.”  Robert Peace was incredibly smart but one doubts a privileged white guy (the author and Rob’s fellow Yale alumni) has any idea of what is stupid when you are black, poor, and living in the Oranges of New Jersey.   A privileged white guy has no f…ing way of knowing what that means.   Expectation comes from our genetics and environment, neither of which can be fully understood by another.  Robert Peace’s life is a tragedy and an opportunity for Jeff Hobbs.  To a listener, it is only a tragedy.

Jeff Hobbs comments-copy and paste to your website, if interested. https://youtu.be/GmsyKtmwBQw

(Visited 99 time, 1 visit today)

BESTSELLER

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.com

Great American Bestsellers: The Books That Shaped AmericaGreat American Bestsellers

Published by: The Great Courses

Lectures by:  Professor Peter Conn

PETER CONN (AUTHOR, VARTAN GREGORIAN EMERITUS PROFESSOR OF ENGLISH, PROFESSOR OF EDUCATION AT THE UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA)
PETER CONN (AUTHOR, VARTAN GREGORIAN EMERITUS PROFESSOR OF ENGLISH, PROFESSOR OF EDUCATION AT THE UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA)

Professor Peter Conn prefaces his lectures on “Great American Bestsellers” by noting a bestseller’ label is not necessarily a measure of good or great writing but of popular consumption.  Historically, bestseller has meant high purchase volume for a book; usually, higher than expected.  In the modern age, a bestseller label is often degraded by publishers; i.e. it is used as a marketing ploy rather than a measure of sales volume.

However, by more accurate measure of popular consumption, Conn argues bestsellers shape American culture, either by reinforcing or changing the direction of cultural norms. The books Conn identifies are American bestsellers because they fulfill two criteria.  One, the books Conn selects and reviews are widely purchased.  Two, Conn’s bestseller’ selections arguably reflect or shape American’ belief.

Most books Conn selects are well-known today.  A few, like “The Bay Psalm Book”, “Ragged Dick”, and (at least to me) “The House of Mirth”, are obscure.  Some of Conn’s selections have been reviewed in this blog; e. g. Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense”, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”, Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle”, Pearl Buck’s “The Good Earth”,  John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath”, Richard Wright’s “Native Son”, and Joseph Heller’s “Catch-22”,  Each of these books profoundly shape my view of America; partly from personal experience but mostly from an author’s ability to paint pictures of others’ lives.

THE RIGHTS OF MAN
THE RIGHTS OF MAN

These lectures are informative.  Thomas Paine’s “Rights of Man” is as relevant today as it was in the nineteenth century.  It became a best seller because it reflected rising discontent with the direction of government.  Todays’ political demonstrations offer similar resentment about elected representatives and an election system (now corrupted by money) that Paine railed against when writing about the rights of man.

UNCLE TOM'S CABIN
UNCLE TOM’S CABIN

“Uncle Tom’s Cabin” is another bestseller that moves modern readers with as much force as it did in the 1850s.  Conn recounts the apocryphal story of Abraham Lincoln’s welcome for Stowe to the White House—“So this is the little lady who started the great war”. (Albeit, an unlikely apocryphal story.)

MARK TWAIN (SAMUEL CLEMENS 1835-1910)
MARK TWAIN (SAMUEL CLEMENS 1835-1910)

It is interesting to find that Mark Twain’s “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” is criticized for what might be called “Black Samboing” the last half of the book. In characterization of Huck’s companion, Jim, a runaway slave, the last half of the adventure makes Jim look like “Black Sambo”; i.e. one who shucks and grins rather than seeks freedom and the right to be treated as a human being.  Twain seems to covet laughter at the expense of truth.  Conn identifies why Twain is a puzzle that confounds critics’ understanding.  On the one hand, Twain is a man ahead of his time; on another he is a huckster seducing his audience with stereotypical and offensive characterizations of the poor and uneducated.  Twain is an acquired taste; i.e. bitter like beer or coffee that either dulls or sharpens one’s senses.

NATIVE SON
NATIVE SON
RICHARD WRIGHT (1908-1960 WROTE-NATIVE SON)
RICHARD WRIGHT (1908-1960 WROTE-NATIVE SON)

“Native Son”, the first bestseller by an African-American, is a compelling and brutal picture of the consequences of discrimination.  Conn tells of Richard Wrights’ hard life and its lessons; i.e. lessons he writes about in “Native Son”.  It is a story of what being Black in America means.  Many consequences of Wrights’ hard life are still being played out today.

MAXINE HONG KINGSTON (AUTHOR)
MAXINE HONG KINGSTON (AUTHOR)

Nearing the end of Conn’s lecture series, “The Woman Warrior” by Maxine Hong Kingston is reviewed. Kingston represents the tradition of the memoir, a vignette of one’s life, as a form of bestseller literature. This is a genre that reflects on the truth of one’s life. It does not demand factual truth but requires personal insight into one’s place in a culture.  Conn argues that Kingston ably represents that genre of the bestseller’ tradition in America.

DAVID McCULLOUGH (TWO TIME PULIZER PRIZE WINNER)
DAVID McCULLOUGH (TWO TIME PULIZER PRIZE WINNER)

Conn ends his lectures with a review of “John Adams”, written by David McCullough. Published in 2001, it is considered by Conn to be the best biography of John Adams ever written. Parenthetically, Conn notes it is a bestseller that wins McCullough his second Pulitzer Prize.

11/22/63
11/22/63

Though guardedly praising bestseller’ literature, Conn argues that each American author in his lectures provides a window into American culture.  Conn suggests there is no surprise that today’s most prolific bestseller’ author is an attorney, an attorney in the most litigious country in the world. Conn’s final lecture notes today’s most prolific bestseller’ authors are–number one John Grisham, two Stephen King, and three Danielle Steele.

In 24 lectures, Conn surveys many of yesterdays’ bestsellers; some of which have outlived their relevance but many that continue to speak “…volumes about the nation’s cultural climate” (a partial quotation from the publicist of the series).  Conn’s lectures provide insight and motivation to visit or re-visit books that reflect on America’s past and offer hope for America’s future.

(Visited 33 time, 1 visit today)